I think somehow we all individually find a way to rationalize their existence in our minds. We reason that some are mentally ill. Some are substance abusers. Some just don't want to work at all. Some of us even question why we should give them our hard earned dollars when we know they'll just use the money for drugs or alcohol. Right? Sound familiar?
Last week, while waiting at a traffic light, I watched a woman sitting behind a "Hungry! Please Help" sign pull out a cell phone and make a call. She talked for the full 2 minutes I was at the light and was chatting as I pulled away. No one gave her money while she talked. The contradiction was clear..... Here's a seemingly homeless woman sitting on the ground with no food yet she still has a cell phone and service. Where do they send her bills? Perhaps a tactical error on her part unless she was using her telephone to advocate for homeless people? My guess - Probably not!
So while I sat there, I pondered the life of a homeless person in Los Angeles. It's got to be better than being homeless in Green Bay, Wisconsin or Chicago in winter but certainly nothing to aim for. I also reflected back to a time a few years ago when I was running several times a week. My jogs took me along a stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills. On the north side of the blvd. between Doheny and Wilshire Blvd. is a nice walking/running path. Many mornings I'd find myself up and running before the sun came up. That's when I first noticed that this area was also the temporary home to some of the city's homeless population during the night. It was eye-opening to jog by as they stirred from their slumber on the benches that lined the walkways. I eventually reached a point when I knew their schedules and locations. Two of the people occupied benches about a half a mile apart. I was startled once by a third person who made his nightly nest in some bushes just off the trail. As I ran by I heard a rumbling noise in the bushes. Not knowing what or who was hiding in the bushes, my response was to turn on the jets and run faster. As I looked back over my shoulder I spied a gentleman zipping up his pants after relieving himself. I think I scared him as much as he scared me. From that day on I knew where to look for him as I ran by. He was usually the last one of the three to wake up. This continued for a few months and then one morning - They were all gone. I don't know if the police asked them to (uhmnnn!) move on or if they found a better place to hang out or what. I suppose in my optimism I always hoped and imagined that they found a more comfortable and better existence.
The reality is, they probably moved further west on Santa Monica...... Where they could interact with more people and not be hassled.
During this period I heard a song on the radio. Mr. Wendal by Arrested Development.
I'm playing the Youtube video below.
When I first heard the song I thought it was a catchy tune. I enjoyed the grove. I really didn't listen to the message.
According to Wikipedia:
The song was written about the plight of the homeless and encourages people not to ignore them just because of their status or how they look.
The lyrics imply that there is wisdom to be gained by listening to the homeless.
I think I now have a better appreciation of the message the artists were trying to project.
To illustrate this point, Eric Sheptock, a homeless man in Washington D.C., has just found his voice through modern technology and the Blogosphere. And people are listening.
In his words:
All in all, people are homeless because they can't get a job and they can't get a job because they're homeless. It's a catch-22.
See his post titled: SYSTEMIC FAILURES: Why Some Homeless People Are Unemployed
He offers an interesting and accurate perspective. He highlights issues that many of us don't consider. Like, what do you do with your stuff when you go for a job interview if you're homeless? And given the choice of eating, working, and having a place to sleep, which do you choose? He's blogging about something near and dear to him and subjects he knows intimately - Living in the streets and the plight of the homeless. He finds computer access in public libraries and he seems to be developing a following. And guess what? He owns a cell phone! My feeling is - He won't be homeless and unemployed for long. You can catch more of his writing at: On the Clock with Eric Sheptock